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article imageVirtual showrooms attract modern car buyers

By Joe Duarte     Feb 6, 2014 in Technology
It’s getting harder and harder to find luxury automotive dealerships in the downtown cores of major cities, even though that’s the best place to reach luxury buyers. However, that doesn’t mean car companies can’t have showrooms.
The solution may well lie in technology, and with today’s touchscreen, motion detection and display advancements, the virtual showroom as adopted by Audi may well be the way to cater to the young and affluent in the settings in which they’re most comfortable shopping, without the need to rent expensive floor space on which to park vehicles.
Audi has recently opened its third Audi City virtual showroom in Berlin (the first virtual showroom in Germany). The Audi City experience started in London during the 2012 summer Olympics and expanded to Beijing in January 2013. The next Audi City is planned for Moscow, though the company has not committed to a deadline.
In a virtual showroom, customers can choose the models they want, spec them out for colours, materials and accessories, and have them displayed life-sized on a video wall. About the only thing they can’t do is test drive the model they chose, though that is usually done by appointment at a nearby traditional dealership.
Customers, such as those shopping for Jaguar Land Rover vehicles, spec out the model, trim, colour, equipment and accessories they want on a touchpad screen and have a high-resolution, 3D image displayed nearby—a physical display in a dedicated space or even just a projection on a white temporary screen or building wall. That gives the virtual showroom the advantage of going to prospective buyers, rather than drawing customers to a showroom.
Mercedes’ first virtual showroom coincided with the launch of the new A-Class hatchback in Europe. The Visionary Store opened in Milan in September 2012. As with other virtual showrooms, the idea of the Visionary Store is to offer customers a new way of interacting with vehicles before they even step inside them. It offers an interactive infotainment experience that blends emotion into the information-gathering experience of car-buying and does it in a way that appeals to young, modern, tech-savvy consumers.
“The customer is now the star, even more than before,” said Dr. Joachim Schmidt, Executive Vice President Sales and Marketing, Mercedes-Benz Cars at the opening event. “He can now experience our vehicles in two worlds at once—the real and the virtual. Together, they offer a completely new vehicle experience.”
BMW opened its virtual showroom in Paris in May 2012. The BMW Brand Store, as part of what the company calls Future Retail, is meant to help the brand increase contact points to connect with customers and prospects, increase its services and benefits at the retail level, and enhance the overall retail experience.
“The world of retail has changed significantly—customer behaviour, needs and expectations have changed, as well as communication technology,” said Ian Robertson, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Sales and Marketing BMW, at the store’s opening. “We will now implement a comprehensive programme named Future Retail. This will entail a whole range of initiatives and tools designed to enhance the customer experience and to set new standards for retail in the automotive industry and beyond.”
As for gauging success, Audi City London (which replaced a traditional dealership) drew a 70 percent increase in sales, with 60 percent of all buyers being new to the brand; and Audi City Beijing is drawing an average of 8,000 people per day (though it’s not known how many are potential buyers).
More about Virtual reality, Touchscreen, auto dealership, Car shoppers
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